Ravi Shankar – Nine Decades Vol. 1 167-1968 (East Meets West Music, 2010)
Okay, if you were Ravi Shankar and you, family and friends started up a record label what would be your first release? Ravi Shankar, of course. Being the first name you think of when discussing Indian music or sitar virtuosos, and you can ask any of the hippy dippy stoner folks or the pretzel formed yoga friends in your life, Ravi Shankar is almost a genre to himself and for many of first real exposure to world music. So, why not go back and find the essence of the musician?
In the liner notes of Nine Decades Mr. Shankar writes, “Our motivation was simple: In the last few decades I’ve seen various recording companies releasing my music with little or no imput from me – repackaging releases with new art work and new titles and effectively misusing the public’s trust.” He goes on to add, “…my ragas have been sold as generic ‘new age’ mental and physical well-being potions, a tactic that ignores the classical musical form in which these ragas were composed and erases the history that live in each.”
Now, Nine Decades is the real deal. Pulling from a 1968 live performance on the banks of the Ganges River and a live recording from 1968 in Allahabad, India, Nine Decades unravels Mr. Shankar’s original ragas. One cannot help but be stunned by the power these recordings evoke. Being live recordings from the late 60s, some sections are a little sketchy, but you also get a little scene setting with the opening track “Raga Gangeshwari” with the opening notes provided by a couple of local birds. The mastery that lives in this track simply exudes Mr. Shankar’s musical force.
Interestingly enough this recording possesses that mysterious mystical quality of the raga that made every hippy, new age guru or soul searching, disillusioned musician think that he or she had had their first mind expanding experience. And, this is where the second track of Nine Decades comes in. The second track of the CD is a compilation of responses from audience members after a 1967 Ravi Shankar performance. The responses are indeed precious. Oh, if we’d only could be that innocent and not so jaded again.
My favorite track of this CD is the last track, “Durga Suktam and Mahishasura Mardini Stotram,” recorded in 1968 with the temple priests in Allahabad, India. This is where music meets devotion. There is a raw, precious quality to this recording, something that is beyond our high-speed networks, our jet-setting pace and media hungry lives. This track is a group of monks in this particular place and at this particular time in history. This is where music has no other time or place – it is simply for the now. Of course, the irony that this is coming at me from a recording is not completely lost on me, but I still can’t help but find it hypnotic.
Ravi Shankar – Nine Decades Vol. 1 167-1968 is a wonderful start to a life’s retrospective. All I can hope is the Mr. Shankar keeps them coming.
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